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*A RECOMMENDED READ*

Sirius at Dear Author
Clever and ambitious, Special Agent Adam Darling (yeah, he’s heard all the jokes before) was on the fast track to promotion and success until his mishandling of a high profile operation left one person dead and Adam “On the Beach.” Now he’s got a new partner, a new case, and a new chance to resurrect his career, hunting a cruel and cunning serial killer in a remote mountain resort in Oregon.
Deputy Sheriff Robert Haskell may seem laid-back, but he’s a tough and efficient cop — and he’s none too thrilled to see feebs on his turf — even when one of the agents is smart, handsome — and probably gay. But a butchered body in a Native American museum is out of his small town department’s league.
For that matter, icy, uptight Adam Darling is out of Rob’s league, but that doesn’t mean Rob won’t take his best shot.

 

They dressed quickly, Rob loaning Adam a black sweater, a dark parka, and a pair of wool gloves. Then they armed and headed into the cold night.

The crust of snow crunched softly beneath their boots as they jogged down the road. Ahead, the vacation rental continued to sleep beneath the rafters of clouds.

Adam knew he hadn’t imagined that furtive light. He was afraid that whoever was behind it would be long gone by the time they made it down the long, slippery road.

Five minutes into their run, Rob, slightly ahead, stopped so suddenly, that Adam slammed into him. Rob grabbed his arm, steadying him. “What…the…fuck…is…that?” he whispered. He was staring at the ridge above them.

Adam gazed up and his heart seemed to stop for a few crucial seconds.

Gazing down at them, so still he could have been carved from midnight, was a tall, black, winged figure.

Winged.

As in…wings.

Adam tried to wrap his mind around this development, assuring himself they were not real wings, even as his disbelieving eyes took in the details of every glossy black feather. They sure as hell looked like real wings.

Rob seemed to recover from his initial shock. He said in a clear, loud voice, “What are you supposed to be?” and pulled his weapon.

The figure drew back, disappearing from view.

Adam saw it all, just as he’d seen it unfold from the backseat of Tom Conway’s Porsche on that deserted road in Bakersfield. Intuition? Instinct? He didn’t know how he knew. He just knew.

He said urgently, “Rob, we’ve got to get to that house. He didn’t come from there. He’s after whoever is in there.”

Rob was already halfway up the slope, pistol in one hand, scrambling for a foothold. He threw over his shoulder, “Then find her. Or whoever it is in there. This guy is mine.”

They shouldn’t split up. But there wasn’t time to argue, and if by some chance Tiffany was hiding in that vacation rental, he had to get to her first. Why the hell hadn’t they brought a radio? These thoughts flooded Adam’s brain as he sprinted down the road, twice nearly losing his balance on patches of ice, racing for the dark and silent house.

God, be careful, he thought. There was light; icy, silvery light, more romantic than useful. That’s all he needed. A sprained or broken ankle. But the words were really meant for Rob. Did Rob realize what he was dealing with? Did he understand the danger?

He hit another frozen puddle, his foot slipped and he went with it, skating a couple of inches before regaining solid ground. He ran on. He reached the house at last and went quietly up the snow-piled steps to the front deck. He crossed the deck and tried the front door.

It was locked. It would have been surprising if it hadn’t been. He moved on to the sliders a few feet down. Also locked. With a wooden broom handle wedged in the tracks for good measure. He tried to peer through the glass. The drapes had been drawn across.

He didn’t want to panic her, if it was Tiffany inside. And he didn’t want to get shot by some freaked-out homeowner. He went back down the stairs and went around the side, nearly falling over a metal fire pit concealed beneath the snow. The collision of his shins with the metal lid and the subsequent crash made a fair bit of racket. No lights came on, no draperies twitched open. The house stayed stubbornly still.

Maybe she’d already fled.

That was a disheartening thought.

He tried the two big windows on the first floor. Both were locked. He went to the back door and began searching amongst the weathered and peeling lawn ornament animals populating the built-in flower planters. He struck out a couple of times before he noticed a small, painted stone.

Score.

Why homeowners imagined these decorative hiding places were anything but an invitation to burglary, he would never understand. Tonight he was only grateful to hear the reassuring jingle of metal on resin. He opened the key box, rose, and went to unlock the back door.

The door swung silently open onto a long empty sun porch.

Adam softly closed the door, locked it, and drew his weapon. Carrying at low ready, he moved quietly across the outdoor carpeting and went up the narrow wooden staircase.

The house was cold and smelled of paint and new carpet. It smelled uninhabited, and he began to wonder if he had made a mistake.

He reached the next level and found himself in a kitchen. There were half shutters across the windows. Moonlight spilled over the tops, highlighting a can opener and an empty Campbell’s soup tin on the island in the center of the kitchen.

“Tiffany?” Adam called. “This is Special Agent Darling. I’m with the FBI and I’m armed. Please show yourself.”

Nothing.

He kept his voice calm, tried to sound reassuring. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt tonight.”

A floorboard squeaked. He brought up his weapon. The doorway was empty. Even so, he could sense her presence, feel a pulsing, live element in the darkness. Close by.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Adam said. “No one wants to hurt you.”

Granted, the fact that he was pointing a Glock in what he surmised was her general direction was probably not reassuring. But he had no way of knowing whether she was also armed or not, whether she was another innocent victim or an accomplice, whether it was even Tiffany he was talking to.

“We can end this right now,” Adam said. “Put your hands up and step out slowly. I’m going to count to three. One. Two…”